This is the fourth and final post in our series aimed at helping you coach movement better. The recipe thus far has been:
These are primarily left-brained tasks – they’re logical and are guided by science, to an extent. But like all great recipes, the magic comes in the subtle tweaks to get things just right. This is what we call ‘the art of coaching’ and it’s much more right-brain in nature. After you’ve begun to deliver your movement design to your clients, the next step is to begin correcting that movement, or what we prefer to call ‘Refinement.’ We use that term not because ‘correcting’ makes it seem as if the client is doing something wrong but rather out of a desire to always help them do things just a little better. Almost as if you’re polishing up an already gorgeous car. The author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, has a great illustration as to the power of these small, seemingly insignificant improvements. Check it out:
When it comes to refining movement, I’m going to make a bold claim: informed, intentional programming takes care of nearly all movement refinement concerns. Here’s why: when you program in the manner that we’ve explained up to this point, meeting your client where they are, you will not find yourself needing to make big sweeping adjustments to what someone is doing. It is only when you have tried starting, or accelerating, a client too far ahead of their current ability that you run into the necessity for major refinements.
Having said all that, let’s go over a basic 3-step checklist you can use to determine when to step in and make corrections:
An obvious starting point, it should go without saying that clients should not be experiencing any pain while moving under your supervision. If you detect it or they voice it, stop what they’re doing and begin gathering information. Try a few movement regressions to see if you can still train the pattern pain free. Yes, that’s the goal – pain free. Not merely ‘less painful.’ If you’re unable to rectify the issue with a regression and you’re not a physical therapist, your duty it to send them to one. Stop with all the mobility and stretching prescriptions to alleviate pain; you’re just masking the root cause.
Posture and Position:
Your next step is to correct any postural issues. Can they maintain good alignment from head to toe as they perform the movements you’ve prescribed? Perhaps a quick verbal, visual, or tactile cue will do the trick. If you find that you’re always repeating the same cues, you haven’t taught them anything except how to be dependent on you. As for position, what we’re talking about is anything else not posture related. Example: in a ring row, you not only want a straight body-line from head to toe (posture), you also want elbows tight to the body (position). These are refined in the same manner, through effective cueing.
The hallmark of client success from a coach’s point of view is in seeing them progress, be it with a new movement or by progressing another training variable like sets, reps, rest, load, or tempo. (And before you stop reading – yes, results are important! But as coaches we know that consistent progress is one way to ensure clients are still marching toward their desired result.) The time for refinement is most prominent when introducing a new movement. However, if you keep in mind the earlier concept of ‘design begins where ability ends,’ you’ll realize that the new movement should be somewhat indistinguishable from what they’re currently doing. Imagine the current and next movement being right next to each other on an infinite movement continuum. The new movement should make so much sense intuitively that your client responds with, “Of course we’re doing XYZ, it’s the logical next step!” So with that said, how much refinement should you really have to do?
To continue to improve your abilities as a coach, you need to put time in the trenches. But merely logging hours is not enough. The best coaches understand that reviewing each coaching session and working to deliberately improve it is paramount to their success and career longevity. The more movement you have exposure and pay attention to, the better. So while you don’t need to understand the finer points of anthropometrics and joint angles, a basic understanding of the fundamental movement patterns is crucial. Similarly, you can’t skip ahead to programming movement if you haven’t assessed your client’s starting point. And if you don’t know how to write program designs that begin where client ability ends, you’ll be chasing your tail to find out why your clients aren’t achieving sustainable progress. But if you do all of this with an attitude to continually get better, you won’t find the need for an abundance of movement refinement.